Democrat-turned-Republican Millennial: Conservatives need to engage, not sit in echo chambers

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It still doesn’t feel all too long ago when I was spending the summer after my freshman year of college interning at the DNC Headquarters in Washington DC. The exhilarating memories of having worked day and night to elect Barack Obama in 2008, among many other Democrats throughout the years, were still fresh. I was ready to now do my small part in making “Hope and Change” happen.

I spent my DC days, among other things, getting to meet with big-time Democrats on the Hill, writing millennial outreach reports for the DNC Chair, working on talking points for young people regarding ObamaCare, organizing and speaking at fundraisers, rallies, and conferences, and even celebrated July 4th at the White House.

Fast forward to the present and I’ve spent the last several years fighting hard to elect reform conservative candidates up and down the ballot, have been an active leader in groups such as the Federalist Society, and consider myself a firm constitutional conservative.

Sometimes I look back and marvel in wonder at the road I’ve walked these past few years. However I think that the journey I made is one that not only many others have made and can make, but one that the Republican Party and conservative movement needs to consider and encourage in order to remain vibrant in our rapidly changing nation and the new challenges confronting it in the 21st century.

I began to question my affiliation with the left through seeing the contrast in the idealistic hopes of the Obama wave in 2008 versus the policy and societal results.

Growing up, I felt Democrats were the party of inclusivity, openness, and compassion, whether for newcomers to this country, the poor and meek, or people of diverse backgrounds. “Social justice” and “equality” seemed like noble American ideals worth fighting for.

However over time I began to understand more how those same values of compassion, justice, and inclusivity not only could be pursued through a conservative philosophy based on liberty, God-given rights, limited government, federalism, and the Constitution - but were perhaps even best pursued through governance and a social system rooted in those beliefs.

I began to question my affiliation with the left through seeing the contrast in the idealistic hopes of the Obama wave in 2008 versus the policy and societal results. I also questioned the increasing influence of the ultra-left in the Democrats in 2012 - especially accommodating Occupy Wall Street and others on the hard left - a phenomenon that has only grown worse in many ways since then with groups such as Antifa and campus anti-free speech movements.

From that initial questioning, I started to have discussions with conservatives. I took classes in political economy where we read thinkers like Hayek. And through work and personal experiences, I gained a greater understanding of paying taxes, personal liberties, and all the other aspects of our daily lives that can trace themselves back to the Constitution and the ideals of liberty-based limited government.

I believe my story is one the GOP as a whole needs to understand. After 2012, the famous GOP “Autopsy Report” noted how the GOP needed to reach out beyond its current tent.

Since then, a variety of figures have tried to push the Republican Party and conservative movement in a direction that remains true to our values but focuses not only on reaching out to all communities in our nation, but also orients itself not to the past but to the future.

One reason I believe many people don’t consider the conservative argument is because many of its modern manifestations put forward a reactionary and cruel face. Another is that too often our governance policies are presented as a time-machine to the past rather than seeming to tackle the unique problems and circumstances of the present.

Liberal, let alone progressive, redistribution will not be able to properly confront many challenges we are facing, such as our economy’s changing fundamentals due to technology and automation. It is the conservatives who have the ability to propose innovative solutions and encourage free market-based policies - policies that have already proven effective in creating a rising tide for all boats.

I know there is a lot of concern in the conservative movement about its future. But I believe it will be the conservative philosophy that will triumph because it is the one that embraces the right values and a paradigm that allows us to best confront the 21st century’s challenges on the economic, technological, social, and foreign policy fronts.

Conservatives need to not just sit in our echo chambers and write off the rest of the population as lost, but rather engage people of every background and affiliation. That’s the only way our values and movement will grow.

By presenting a compassionate, optimistic, open, and innovative face - a modern version of Reagan’s “Morning in America” - we can truly become the party and movement of the future.

That’s how I came to the Republican Party and conservative movement, and I think it is how many others will too.